I drove down a road today that I hadn't traveled in some time. It's changed. The image of that first time I rode through renders in my mind like a Monet painting. I thought it was the most beautiful …
I drove down a road today that I hadn't traveled in some time. It's changed. The image of that first time I rode through renders in my mind like a Monet painting. I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.
The first summer after high school graduation, I worked for the State Highway Department. In the fall, I enrolled at Jefferson State Community College in a suburb of Birmingham. Jeff State had busses then that fetched students from as far away as Cordova and Sloss Hollow.
I expected the bus to go through Birmingham on its way to the college campus in Center Point. Instead, it hauled a load of yawning students through narrow winding backroads. I watched the seasons change through those bus windows. When we crossed the Buck Short Bridge on crisp autumn mornings, it often looked as if the river was sleeping under a blanket of fog.
There was a section of that road that was my favorite. The asphalt dissected a beautiful ranch. Cows and horses grazed near a white rail fence that bordered the road on both sides as far as the eye could see. The property extended all the way to the river’s edge. The ranch house and barn looked like heaven on a hillside.
I imagined how it would feel to own such a beautiful place. Feeding cows and shoeing horses in the morning would be on the schedule, I was sure. Then in the evenings I’d take a cane pole and walk down to the river and catch a mess of catfish for supper.
When the Army drafted me in 1971, the roads in my life changed. I was in New Jersey for a while and then in Panama. It wasn’t until later in my life that I had reason to drive down the road past the old ranch. It was gone.
Beneath the land was a seam of Black Creek coal. Anthracite is almost as hard as diamonds. It’s black gold.
I'm not sure if the owner died or got tired of chasing cows, but he sold the land. Maybe he needed the money. And when he looked at that land, he saw dollar signs instead of the beauty I saw when I passed. This much I know: Had I owned that property, it would have been left to my ancestors.
Soon draglines and dynamite turned paradise into a moonscape. Mountains of slate rock the color of a kindergarten blackboard replaced the rolling pastures. Nothing grew there for years except scrub pine and cottonwood.
Today when I drove down that road, I saw something I didn't expect. A tiny stretch of beauty. Queen Ann's Lace by the side of the road was enough to make me turn my head.
I pulled to the curb, put my emergency flashers on, and stepped back to take a few pictures. The wind was ripping so it was difficult to get a picture that was in focus. After slipping the phone back in my pocket, I stood for a long time looking around me.
I smiled as I stepped back to the truck. The Queen Ann’s lace was beautiful, but I miss the horses.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, “Life Goes On,” is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.